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The Painting Speaks:

Paintings by Tong Chin Sye and

Poems by Tan Chee Lay

04.04 // 15.04 2018

TCS 078 89 Exhibition 110x75cm CTF SOLD.

Featuring 16 sets of ekphrastic poetry by scholar-writer Dr. Tan Chee Lay alongside the paintings of veteran artist Tong Chin Sye, The Painting Speaks brings together the creative expressions of two important local talents and provides new windows through which audience can connect meaningfully with both the literary and visual art forms. Originally composed in Chinese, each poem by Dr. Tan Chee Lay embodies a literary (re)interpretation of a painting by Tong Chin Sye. This relationship between the image and the word is shaped by a collaboration as well as a contest of ideas. As contexts and meanings shift and expand in the process, new dimensions emerge for our enjoyment of both painting and poetry.

The ekphrastic poetry by Dr. Tan Chee Lay in The Painting Speaks relates an interesting literary dimension to appreciating Tong Chin Sye’s oil and mixed media paintings (completed mostly between the 1980s – 2012). Several paintings capture the street scenes and character of Old Singapore as experienced by Tong Chin Sye, before the rapid onslaught of urbanisation redefined the island.

Exhibition, 1989, Oil on canvas, 110 cm x 75 cm

Dr. Tan Chee Lay, born in 1973, had frequented some of these old street scenes and landmarks when he was young. His personal cherished memories had undoubtedly shaped his interpretations of Tong Chin Sye’s paintings, illuminating through his poetry the shared nostalgia and ineffaceable heritage behind the depicted scenes and activities. Also on showcase are Tong Chin Sye’s paintings of portraits and overseas landscapes, similarly enriched by Dr. Tan Chee Lay’s poetry, as well as two new oil paintings recently completed by the artist.

Dr. Tan Chee Lay has lived in Singapore, Taiwan and the UK, and has studied Chinese Literature, English Studies and Business Administration. He completed his doctorate in Oriental Studies (Chinese literature) at St John’s College, Cambridge University, specializing in Chinese poetry and exile poets. Dr. Tan was awarded the coveted Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2004 and the Singapore Youth Award (Culture and the Arts), the highest accolade for youth, in 2006. A former tutor of the Chinese Language Elective Programme, he is currently an Associate Professor in Chinese in Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and is the Executive Director (Research & Development) of the Singapore Centre for Chinese Language, NTU. Dr. Tan has published and edited over 20 creative writing and academic books. 


Tong Chin Sye (b. 1939, Singapore -) is a multi-media artist trained in both Western and Chinese art. His dynamic oeuvre includes watercolour, oil, Chinese ink and mixed media paintings. Tong was previously a part-time lecturer in Western Art at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and has participated in numerous local and overseas exhibitions over the years. He clinched the first prize in the Port of Singapore Authority Open Art Competition in 1987 and represented Singapore at the Flemish Watercolour Days held at Zaventen, Belgium in 1988. An avid traveler, Tong has journeyed across continents in his painterly quest for fresh scenes and cultural understanding. Be it a bustling town scene or a quiet backyard in a provincial village; labourers by the seaside or folks going about their daily routines, Tong’s paintings absorb us through the curious, reflective lens of a traveler who explores the life and customs of others through the graininess of everyday life. The assiduous combination of East-West techniques also reflects his multifaceted art training.

Official Exhibition Opening and Book Launch

Date: 6 April 2018 (Friday)

Time: 7pm – 7.30pm

Exhibition Period

Exhibition Dates: 4 April – 15 April 2018

Time: 10am - 10pm (daily)

Venue: Gallery One, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane, Singapore 179429

Press Release

[English] The Painting Speaks - Paintings by Tong Chin Sye and Poems by Tan Chee Lay

[Chinese] 画说-眼处心生句自神:童振狮油画与陈志锐诗歌

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